Farewell From The Email Diva

I am taking a sabbatical from the Email Insider for a while, and hope to return with fresh insights and renewed enthusiasm. (When I wrote an article about PowerPoint, I knew the idea well had run dry!) After more than three years, it's time to step aside and let some new voices enrich you with their wisdom.

I leave you with the Email Diva's guide to great email.

Make the user experience your primary consideration. We get so caught up in what we want to say to the customer that we frequently lose sight of what the customer wants from us. Put yourself in the customer's shoes. Develop personae and speak up for them in strategy meetings. Never forget that consumers read every email wondering "What's In It For Me?" -- and if we can't answer that question, we fail.

Listen to your customers. Read the email "reply to" responses that end up in the bit bucket. Employ surveys that include open-ended questions. Talk to those who are on the front lines with the customer - sales- and customer service people. Don't fall victim to self-referential thinking. More often than not, you are NOT the target audience.

Build your list with active opt-ins. I had the pleasure of building two large programs from the bottom up with only those who had raised their hands to say, "Yes, please send me email." As a result, we had few spam complaints and great response rates. You can use third party lists, co-reg, e-append, etc., but the first thing you have to get is permission. Scrupulous list-building practices pay off big time. Let compelling content drive subscriptions, not sleight-of-hand.

Understand that the customer is in control. Readers are opening multiple email accounts to manage the onslaught of email. Email is cursed by a ridiculously low marginal cost that encourages us to mail indiscriminately. Consumers react just as they did to too many TV commercials (DVRs), too many radio ads (satellite radio, recorded portable music), too many online ads (pop-up blockers), too many phone calls (the Do Not Call Registry). Need I go on? Rise above the competition with a little lagniappe. Tell me why I should care about you by showcasing your charitable endeavors.

Do not assume you can read customers' minds. You do not know what I want to buy from you this month, because I don't know until I see what's available. (Do you ever go shopping and get only the item you intended to buy?) Give me attractive options and easy ways to find more of what sparks my interest. Respond to my demographics -- don't talk to me about Back To School if I don't have children or about snow tires when I live in Florida. Let me tell you what I want, through a preference center or progressive profiling, or what I don't want, through negative preferences (one of my pet theories).

Focus on content. Don't repurpose marketing messages from brochures and packaging. Hire a writer to develop content for your purpose (when needed). Interview the CEO, the developer, the celebrity spokesperson. Copywriting, sadly, is cheap and well worth the effort. Let customers write compelling copy for you, in the form of user reviews. Buy stock photography if you can't get the images you need or rights to them. If email is so inexpensive, why can't we find room in the budget for excellent creative?

Take the time to write reports. You can't turn data into insight unless you summarize the lessons learned. Yes, I know you're too busy getting out the next campaign(s). But you'll never improve your program if you don't learn from your response data. Become one with your data. Ommmmm. If you don't know how to make sure your results are statistically significant and that you're comparing apples to apples when you test, find someone who does.

Test something -- anything -- at least once a week. More advice that's much easier said that done, but so critical! Let results drive your decisions -- not opinion. Don't worry about industry averages. The calculation methods and business models of others may not coincide with yours. Know what works for your program with your audience and strive for continuous improvement.

Don't build a silo. Yes, we are so much smarter than the other kids because we understand things like CAN-SPAM, image blocking and multivariate testing. But we still need to provide an experience that makes sense to the customer regardless of channel. Meet with the other departments/agencies regularly to ensure that you are presenting key messages and a look & feel that is integrated yet unique to each medium. Since we're faster, that usually means we need to work with the graphic assets developed for other media. Deal with it.

I thank all of you who have provided great questions and additional insights for my weekly articles. I am especially grateful to those of you who have met me at conferences and said nice things about the column -- that's when I really felt like a diva! Thanks also to Bill McCloskey's Inbox Insiders, who contributed ideas and knowledge to many columns, and to my fabulous editor at MediaPost, Phyllis Fine.

Look forward to fresh new ideas in the Email Insider and...

Good Luck!

The Email Diva

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